34 N.Y.2d 483, People v. D.

Citation:34 N.Y.2d 483, 358 N.Y.S.2d 403
Party Name:People v. D.
Case Date:July 10, 1974
Court:New York Court of Appeals

Page 483

34 N.Y.2d 483

358 N.Y.S.2d 403

The PEOPLE of the State of New York, Respondent,


Scott D., Appellant.

New York Court of Appeals

July 10, 1974.

Page 484

[358 N.Y.S.2d 405] Spiros A. Tsimbinos, Jackson Heights, and Vincent F. Nicolosi, Kew Gardens, for appellant.

Page 485

Nicholas Ferraro, Dist. Atty. (Bruce E. Whitney, Howard Beach, of counsel), for respondent.

BREITEL, Chief Judge.

Defendant-appellant was adjudicated a youthful offender upon his plea of guilty to attempted criminal possession of a dangerous drug in the sixth degree (Penal Law, §§ 110.00, 220.05, Consol.Laws, c. 40). He was sentenced to 90 days imprisonment.

Defendant, a 17-year-old high school student, contends that drugs taken by a teacher from his wallet when he was searched in the principal's office were obtained illegally. The teacher was also the school co-ordinator of security.

The adjudication should be vacated and the complaint dismissed. High school students are protected from unreasonable searches and seizures, even in the school, by employees of the State whether they be police officers or school teachers. Moreover, the previous equivocal conduct of defendant and the imprecise nature of the information allegedly provided by a 'confidential source' were insufficient to warrant the search and seizure.

Defendant was observed by a teacher, twice during the same morning within one hour, entering a toilet room in the school with a fellow student and both exiting within 5 to 10 seconds. One of the fellow students re-entered the toilet room and remained there for some time. These occurrences were reported by one teacher as 'unusual behavior' to another teacher serving as co-ordinator of school security. Defendant had been under observation for six months for 'possible dealing with drugs, based on information received from confidential sources'. During this period he had been once observed having lunch with another student also under suspicion. The security co-ordinator informed the principal of the reported 'unusual behavior' and

Page 486

was instructed to bring defendant to the principal's office. There, in the presence of a boys' dean and the principal, defendant was searched by the security co-ordinator, and after discovery in his wallet of 13 glassine envelopes containing a [358 N.Y.S.2d 406] white powder, made to strip. Also found on defendant was a vial containing nine pills.

Defendant's motion to suppress the evidence obtained in the search was denied and he thereafter pleaded guilty and was adjudicated a youthful offender. The Appellate Term affirmed the denial of the motion to suppress and the adjudication of defendant as a youthful offender.

Public school authorities have special responsibilities, and therefore correspondingly broad powers, to control the school precincts in order to protect the students in their charge (see, e.g., Education Law, § 912--a, subd. 1; § 3214, subd. 3, par. a, Consol.Laws, c. 16). The obligation to maintain discipline and provide security derives from State law and is delegated by local boards of education (see, e.g., Education Law, § 1604, subd. 9; § 1709, subd. 2; § 2590--e, subd. 8; § 3214, subd. 3, par. b). In exercising their authority and performing their duties, public school teachers act not as private individuals but perforce as agents of the State (see People v. Overton, 24 N.Y.2d 522, 525--526, 301 N.Y.S.2d 479, 481--483, 249 N.E.2d 366, 367--368; cf. Education Law, §§ 3028, 3028--a; see, generally, Ann., Searches By School Officials--Validity, 49 A.L.R.3d 978).

To the extent that public school teachers are responsible for the education, discipline and security of their charges, they are, to a degree like parents. It is not true, however, that school teachers possess all the parental prerogatives. For example, public school teachers, unlike parents, are limited, if not precluded entirely, by the First Amendment and the State Constitution in the type of 'religious' or 'political' activity in which students may be required to participate (Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421...

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